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The Food Pyramid-Whasssup with this?


So it starts out this way-you are hungry. Yep, in fact you are starving. Your stomach is saying, “feed me” like some carnivorous plant from a Broadway show. It's getting stronger. You can't wait for dinner. It seems like days since your last meal. What should you eat? You decide to take that long lonely walk go to the refrigerator to see what you can eat. Okay. You open the refrigerator door and gaze inside much like a lioness gazes at her prey. But that's where the similarity stops. The lioness knows that she is going to eat what she catches. An antelope, bison or deer. Mostly a low fat, high protein meal. Now let's get back to our refrigerator gazer. What is he looking for? Hmmmm. The cherry pie looks good, maybe the leftover chicken,or maybe the… Does this seem like your conversation with yourself the last time you were at the frig? Well it is a conversation we all have. What do we eat? Actually we have been having this discussion since we were able to.

And the experts have tried their best to direct us to what we should be eating. The only problem is that what they tell us we should be eating and what we really should be eating sometimes are very different. That leads me to the USDA Food Pyramid(see Figure 1). You've seen it. A beautiful 3-D triangular structure that has different levels and foods inside. Based on how big these levels are, you are recommended to eat more or less of these foods. For example, when the pyramid came out in 1992, the largest slice of the pyramid was carbohydrates. This meant that we should make carbohydrates the biggest part of our daily meal. At the same time, fats, which occupied the top apex of the pyramid were considered bad for us and we were told to have very little. In between the top and bottom, we were told to have a mixture of milk products, vegetables and fruits. Since 1992, we have learned a lot about foods. From research on food ingredients and reviews of large population studies, we have arrived at a completely different structure and content than the first pyramid. In the first pyramid basically all fats were considered bad. There was no mention of fats that you should be careful of. Fats such as saturated fats, which are from whole milk, red meats and certain cheeses or trans-fats which are synthetic fats developed for preserving the shelf life of many products found in many margarines, pastries and shortenings. Both of these have been found to be associated with the development of heart attack causing placque in the arteries of your heart and stroke causing plaque in the arteries of your neck. What about polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats? Oh yea. They're the other two fats found in fish, plants, olive oils, nuts, whole grains and vegetable oils. These oils have been demonsrated to be heart healthy, mind healthy and all around body healthy!

All carbohydrates were considered good and there was no differentiation between simple( e.g. white rice, white flour, white potato, white bread) and complex (e.g. whole grains, brown rice or oats, whole wheat breads or pasta). We have learned that the simple carbohydrates are digested quickly into glucose ( the bodies form of sugar) and will cause a spike in the glucose and insulin ( a hormone produced by our pancreas) that is released to combat the glucose and force it into the muscles where it will be broken down in our blood stream. As the insulin spikes, glucose is forced into the muscles and the blood sugar level will fall in our blood causing us to be hungry. And as if that's not the only problem, the remaining high levels of insulin have been associated with the development of heart disease and diabetes. The whole grains are digested much slower than the simple starches. They do not cause the rapid glucose and insulin spike patterns seen with simple carbohydrates. This makes them heart friendly and protective of heart disease and diabetes, and they include one of the most important parts of the carbohydrate family, fiber. Fiber has been found to be extremely protective of the body and a diet high in fiber has been associated with a lower incidence of cancer, diabetes, heart disease and a lower risk of being overweight.

Now for the protein. A protein is a protein is a protein. Not really. There is protein from red meat and there is protein from fish and chicken. You certainly need protein every day which is a building block of muscles. Do you need the extra saturated fat from red meat along with your protein? Well that answer is “No, not with every protein meal”. Protein from lean chicken and turkey deliver the same amount of protein with less saturated fat, and fish gives you protein with a lot of good monounsaturated heart friendly fats. Protein sources from beans, nuts and plants gives you lots of vitamins, unsaturated fats and fiber and are also full of the little ninja warriors called phytochemcicals-which are substances that fight diseases.

Got Milk? We all saw those famous commercials with sports stars and celebrities which gave us the message that we all need to drink more milk. Three servings of milk a day! Milk has a high amount of calcium which is a building block of young bones. Women (especially pregnant women), and young children have all been recommended to drink more milk for its calcium content. Whole milk which was proposed for many years also includes a high amount of saturated fat (the fat that raises cholesterol and is associated with building up placque in the arteries of the heart and neck). One percent, two percent and skim milk varieties can provide all of the needed calcium with much less saturated fats. And as for the calcium content, some vegans (vegetarians) get their calcium from plant sources like soy/tofu, broccoli and spinach (remember Popeye the Sailorman?), broccoli and tofu. There are many new drinks that contain calcium and other nutrients as well, most with a low fat content.

Ah yes, the fruits and veggies. Originally the pyramid masters lead us to believe that we needed 2-4 servings of fruits and 3-5 servings of veggies daily. Research has demonstrated that a diet loaded with fruits and vegetables, at a minimum of 5 servings a day has been associated with less cancer, less heart disease, less arthritis, less stroke, less constipation, less eye problems ( like cataracts and macular degeneration) and even maybe anti aging!!! We have learned that we all need to eat a minimum of five a day (five serving sizes of fruits and vegetables). Fruits and veggies have lots of natural fiber, phytochemicials, antioxidants and lower cholesterol in the blood stream and help fight disease. Most fruits are complex carbohydrates and therefore are digested more slowly than simple sugar and cause less problems with the glucose-insulin pump.

Well, you didn't think I would forget about exercise. Our founding pyramid fathers did! But they have since repented and included it in the current pyramid. From the moments of birth we are moving.

And this movement is most valuable for us. Movement requires energy. That energy is supplied by food. So from an early age, we are in a balance equation. Energy in (the food), is balanced by the energy out (the energy we expend with movement). The less we expend in movement, the more energy we retain. Energy retained turns into fat! And there, grasshopper is the answer to the lifelong question, BALANCE. Our current understanding of exercise and the energy in, energy out dynamics, have subsequently led us to place exercise in the pyramid. Exercise has been found to be associated at all ages with improved muscle tone, improved bone strength, less body weight, anti aging, improved heart and brain function, and less depression. Exercise along with a healthy diet has also been linked to marked improvement in chronic diseases like cancer and pulmonary conditions. And exercise in our children, tweens , teens and young adults has been associated with less body weight, less incidence of obesity and a healthier group of people. So what are you waiting for?

Well, let's recap: all proteins and fats and carbohydrates are not the same. Which do you choose? Remember what travels with proteins: fats. Keep your diet on the low side of saturated fats and basically off all trans-fats. Proteins come with good fats as well-the mono and poly unsaturated varieties. Don't forget the phytochemcicals-those little ninja warriors that help fight disease. Carbohydrates - Simple get digested quickly and turn into sugar which triggers insulin. Complex get digested more slowly and don't cause the hunger issues. Complex carbs have more fiber and nutrients. Dairy products are loaded with calcium. Choose the lower fat varieties, and don't forget that you can get calcium from plant products as well in case you are a vegetarian. Nuts: I'm crazy about nuts. They are products of plants and have lots of good fats, vitamins and phytochemicals. They decrease appetites. Avoid them all if you are allergic. If you are not, take a handful or two every day. Walnuts have been shown to be one of the most heart friendly of all nuts. Five a day-yes, that's right –the amount of fruits and veggie servings you should have a day. Have we said enough about how good they are? No-well-they are filled with disease fighting, anti aging and heart friendly elements. Make them your five a day plate buddies!!! And exercise. Don't sit-get fit. Move, move and move. Remember, energy in is balanced with energy out. Energy comes into the body with food. Movement burns the energy. Balance grasshopper.

So what”s the food pyramid all about. Well, its about what to eat, its about exercise, its about balance! Maybe we should call it the food balance. What do you think of the pyramid as a structure? Look for the Nerdhealth Food Balance coming soon. A new way to look at what you should be eating, and what you shouldn't be eating a lot of, exercise and balance. The Nerdhealth Food Balance, a new structure and design to a needed understanding of what we are!